Jeff Van Gundy knows all about NBA’s tough calls during pandemic

The ABC analyst has called every other game, except one, from the safety and comfort of home.

Kevin C. Cox
Jeff Van Gundy (center) appreciates the advantages that covering the NBA from the bubble provided him last season during the pandemic.

Jeff Van Gundy doesn’t miss the bubble, per se. The monotony of that life became “Groundhog Day” pretty fast.

But there are elements of what was, in essence, the Disney-based basketball biodome the NBA used to complete the 2019-20 season that the ESPN/ABC analyst longs for.

The even playing circumstances for all teams, for one. The sense of security, for another.

“Oh, I’m not saying, ‘Hey, I want to go back to the bubble?’ No, no, I don’t want to do that,” he said. “But I think that would be the right move, maybe, with the virus still spreading the way it is.


“And I’ll say this: I think it was fairer in the bubble. Too many games are decided by who’s getting the calls.

“The bubble was tough and it could weigh on you, but it didn’t involve the variables that we have to deal with now, the stress of travel and all of that. These are hard decisions, figuring out the protocols while continuing to play, and unfortunately for the people in charge, there are no good answers. It’s not like they’re overlooking a good answer.”

Van Gundy spoke amid preparations for covering the Lakers-Celtics matchup at TD Garden, the first Saturday night game on the ABC schedule this season. His only other in-person game this season was Mavericks-Lakers in Los Angeles on Christmas Day.

“Every other game has been from the home broadcast setup,” he said. “I love that. It’s not as good as being there, but when you consider all the factors of safety, non-essential travel being eliminated, I prefer it.

“The pandemic was really scary before, it’s still scary, and the numbers can start to numb you. I don’t know who wouldn’t be scared. I don’t care what line of work you’re in. When you travel, whether you’re a basketball player, a broadcaster, a coach, or in another job, I’m sure every time you leave your house there’s some trepidation.”


Van Gundy lamented that too many people don’t think of the greater good until it affects them personally.

“Sometimes it feels like everything has to be a personal event for it to have the impact it should,” said Van Gundy. “For a while, the NBA seemed somewhat immune to the fear of what the virus can do because no one directly involved with the league had passed away yet.”

He mentioned the death this past week of 48-year-old Sekou Smith, a popular longtime journalist and reporter for NBATV.

“Now it hits a little closer to home for some people because we lost a wonderful guy everyone knew, someone who was part of the fabric of the league,” Van Gundy said. “But that seriousness and fear should have always been there. It shouldn’t require something like this.”

I mentioned to Van Gundy that it’s remarkable that the NFL is on the verge of completing a full season, when common sense suggested that the virus would wreak havoc with even the best-laid plans.

“Oh, and the NBA is going to get through this, too,” he said. “One way or the other, they’re getting through it. It’s like college basketball. The list of games not being played is often as long as the list that’s being played. But they’re going to get through it because it’s about the money, right? It’s the bottom line with all of it.”


While he might prefer doing it from the safety of home, Van Gundy was looking forward to seeing the Celtics.

“I love watching them,’’ he said. “I like how they play. I love [Brad Stevens’s] coaching and humility. They were impacted for a long period of time because of these protocols, which is why these records to me are all misleading. Every team is dealing with something different.

“The Celtics, to me, at the end of the year are going to be there, in the picture. They’re going to be hard to deal with.”

It’s been a Super run

Bob Socci became the Patriots’ radio play-by-play voice in 2013, pairing up with analyst Scott Zolak. Over his first six seasons, playing deep into January became habit, with the team advancing to at least the AFC Championship game in each of those seasons.

That, of course, changed last season when the Patriots lost to the Titans in the divisional round, and changed even more this season, with Tom Brady moving on to Tampa Bay and his former team missing the playoffs altogether.

“For a long time, I found that I would get some good-natured teasing from my other play-by-play colleagues,” said Socci. “You know, ‘This guy has X number of rings, maybe he thinks it was his birthright to call the Super Bowl.’ Maybe it wasn’t so good-natured.”

Socci, who has recovered fully after contracting COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago, acknowledges it’s been odd to hear other broadcasters call Brady’s run to his 10th Super Bowl appearance. But he said he never took the Patriots’ success for granted.


“I don’t ever want to sound self-righteous in any way, but it took a long time to get the opportunity,” said Socci. “I had broadcast during a 3-30 spell over three seasons at Navy, where they were 0-10 in 2001. They were beaten soundly week in and week out and the games weren’t very exciting to call. And I’d been through years of calling minor league baseball games, some inept teams, some teams better than others.

“And then I got this incredible opportunity to call games for an NFL dynasty. So I think, for me, this incredible run, I was always aware of how special it was. What I experienced seven years before this season, and hopefully will again, that was living a dream.”

Stop teasing us.

It’s understandable why WEEI (850 AM), which airs ESPN Radio programing, wouldn’t be a priority for parent company Entercom in the Boston market. The station received a 0.0 share in the fall Nielsen ratings period in the men 25-54 demographic. But it’s probably time to stop running the promo for the “Golic and Wingo” show considering neither Trey Wingo nor Mike Golic works for ESPN anymore . . . Jahmai Webster, who will take over the Red Sox in-game reporter role for Guerin Austin on NESN broadcasts this season (Austin and Steve Lyons won’t be back this season), will do a good job. To regular viewers, he should already be familiar. Webster has done around 120 Red Sox games over the past couple of seasons . . . ESPN fired Curt Schilling in April 2016. How many different things has Schilling said, done, or tweeted over the past four-plus years that would have also gotten him fired from “Sunday Night Baseball”? The over/under is 38.



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